Top Books of 2012

At the close of another year, I wanted to look back at the best books I read in 2012. While it might have been helpful to post this list before Christmas (for those looking for gift ideas for the readers in your life), I’m glad I didn’t, since two of the books on this list I’ve just read in the last week!

It’s difficult for me to assign a rank to these books since I enjoyed them in different ways, so here are this year’s top ten in alphabetical order:

According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible, by Graeme Goldsworthy — This is the only one of my seminary books to make the list this year, but that’s one more than I expected. While I enjoyed (to varying degrees) all of my assigned reading, this book on biblical theology stands out as one that I’ll be sure to read again, and one which will appeal to a lot of readers. I wrote a brief review here.

Calico Joe, by John Grisham — This was an MLB All-Star Game-inspired fun read. It is Grisham’s shortest novel (to date), but one of the most purely enjoyable books I’ve read in quite a while. My review is here.

The Conviction to Lead: 25 Principles for Leadership that Matters, by Albert Mohler — I often read and benefit from books on leadership, but rarely do I actually enjoy reading them. This is easily the best leadership book I’ve read, and one I’ll be turning to again frequently. A more thorough review is forthcoming.

Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry, by Paul David Tripp — I know I said I have difficulty ranking books, but if I were a pastor it would be a no-brainer to list this as my #1. As a lay-leader in the church, I have still found much that benefits me, particularly his warnings against the perils of seminary education. Vocational ministry is a dangerous calling, indeed! (I actually still have two chapters to go to finish this one, but I’ll officially review it when I finish.)

Economics in One Lesson: The Shortest and Surest Way to Understand Basic Economics, by Henry Hazlitt — I usually don’t list re-reads as annual favorites, but this was a more recent (and revised) edition from what I’d read previously, so it counts! There are better books on economics, but if there were one book on the subject I wish everyone would pick up, it would be this one. The subtitle says it all. My review is here.

Evening in the Palace of Reason: Bach Meets Frederick the Great in the Age of Enlightenment, by James R. Gaines — This dual biography on two of the most fascinating figures in European history is a must-read for musicians, and a strong recommendation for anyone else. Riveting from cover to cover. My review is here.

Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books, by Tony Reinke — I loved this book about books from fellow bibliophile Tony Reinke, and you will, too. My review is here.

Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl: Wide-Eyed Wonder in God’s Spoken World, by N.D. Wilson — This was definitely the most unique book I read this year. Seeing the world through Nate Wilson’s eyes was a joy… it’s a book you “experience” rather than simply “read”. My review is here.

Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative, by Ken Robinson — I bought this book based on my appreciation Sir Ken Robsinson’s now-viral lecture on creativity. While the book wasn’t quite as good as I’d hoped, this was probably more due to unrealistic expectations than any actual shortcomings in the book. And the parts that were good were really good! Lots here for teachers and parents to learn. Not sure if/when I’ll review this one.

Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God, by John Piper — It’s a helpful intellectual pursuit to occasionally think about thinking, and this book by one of my favorite thinkers is an excellent guide for that process. My review is here.

Here are a few that just missed my top ten:

Well, there’s my list. What were some of your favorite reads this year?

Book Review: Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books

“Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books” by Tony Reinke

When I first saw the title of this book, I thought, “If ever there was a book written just for me, this is it!

I was wrong.

Tony Reinke’s guide to reading is a book with MUCH broader appeal than just bibliophiles like me. The back cover states that this is a book for those who love to read, hate to read, don’t have time to read, read only Christian books, aren’t good at reading, or can’t decide what to read. It seems like that covers just about everyone, and I believe that he has successfully written a book that will engage and instruct readers and non-readers alike.

The book is divided into two parts: “A Theology of Books and Reading” and “Some Practical Advice on Book Reading”. In both sections, Reinke writes with a contagious passion for reading that will benefit and encourage experienced readers without intimidating or alienating novices — not an easy task!

While I agree with Reinke’s ordering of the book in such a way that the theological foundation precedes the practical application (moving from the universals to the particulars), I think that one of his practical tips will be helpful to include early in the review to provide a context for the rest. In chapter 8, he suggests that one of the first things a reader should do before beginning a book is to examine what Mortimer Adler called the “skeleton” of a book by reading the table of contents to get a general sense of where a book is going. As it was largely the logical progression of thought in this book’s table of contents that persuaded me to purchase it, let me share it with you:

  1. Paper Pulp and Etched Granite — Laying the Cornerstone of Our Theology of Books
  2. Wide-Eyed Into the Son — How Personal Sin and the Gospel Shape Our Literacy
  3. Reading Is Believing — Savoring Books in an Eye-Candy Culture
  4. Reading from Across the Canyon How a Biblical Worldview Equips Us to Benefit from Books
  5. The Giver’s Voice — Seven Benefits of Reading Non-Christian Books
  6. The God Who Slays Dragons — The Purifying Power of Christian Imagination
  7. Read With Resolve — Six Priorities That Decide What Books I Read (and Don’t Read)
  8. How to Read a Book — 20 Tips and Tricks for Reading Nonfiction Books
  9. Literature Is Life — Tapping into the Benefits of Fiction Literature
  10. Too Busy to Read — Six Ways to Find (and Protect) the Time You Need to Read Books
  11. Driven to Distraction — How Internet Habits Cripple Book Reading
  12. Marginalia — The Fine Art of Defacing Books with Pencils, Pens, and Highlighters
  13. Reading Together — Building Community One Book at a Time
  14. Raising Readers — How Parents and Pastors Can Ignite in Others a Love for Book Reading
  15. Happily Ever After — Five Marks of a Healthy Book Reader

I benefited personally in some way from every single chapter in this book, though there were a few highlights that I especially appreciated. First and foremost was Reinke’s insistence that book reading not replace Scripture reading in our priorities. This is something that is a constant temptation for me, and of which I cannot be reminded too many times! I am also glad that he never assumes that readers of his book are operating under the same definition of “gospel” that he is. Chapter 2 clearly and concisely lays out a  beautiful presentation of the gospel, so that by it, we may read books “with unveiled faces” (cf., 2 Corinthians 3:14-18).

Chapter 6 was a particularly enjoyable one for me, reminding me that my imagination is a wonderful gift from God! Agreeing with authors like Lewis and Tolkien that Story is one of the primary ways that God reveals himself, Reinke turns to the book of Revelation to demonstrate the inseparable connection between imagination and theology.

In the second part of the book, the chapter on Internet habits was easily the most convicting. I am keenly aware of how easily my free time is eaten up by my laptop and smartphone, but less obvious — and possibly more damaging — are the ways that social media, sports, and other distractions reduce the effectiveness of the time I do spend reading books. This is a chapter I am likely to re-read repeatedly.

I also greatly appreciated Reinke’s thoughts on instilling a love of reading in my children, and among others within my sphere of influence. Many of his suggestions — such as reading the Bible and other books to my kids at night, and leading a book reading group with college students from my church — are things I’m already doing, but which I will do far better as a result of reading this book. Other tips are ideas that had never occurred to me but which I can’t wait to try! For example, Reinke asks his children to mark their five favorite pages in each book they read, bring them to the dinner table, and explain them in context to the rest of the family. I absolutely love this family tradition! This is something I would really like to implement with my own children when they get a little older.

One question I had asked of Lit! before I started reading it was whether there would be anything substantially improved or different from other great books on thinking and reading such as Mortimer Adler’s How to Read a Book and Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death. While Reinke does quote heavily from both books (and many others on the topic), I’m happy to report that his book really is worthy to sit on the bookshelf next to those. In addition to the emphasis on a Christian worldview (which both Adler and Postman lacked), Lit! builds on the practical wisdom of earlier writers and addresses many contemporary challenges of which they never dreamed.

If you want to learn how to read better, read more frequently, or choose books more wisely, then I heartily recommend this book to you. If you don’t want to do any of those things, then I hope you’ll at least give this book a shot at convincing you why you should! You won’t regret it.

Buy it here.

Combing the Net – 5/1/2012

Is the Megachurch the New Liberalism? — Al Mohler, who serves as a teaching pastor in a megachurch, asks some very tough questions about the trajectory of the theology of American evangelicalism as led by the megachurch culture. Specifically, he asks whether the reluctance to speak about divorce (for fear of losing church members) has led to a church culture that affirms sin in an attempt to “save” the church, which is exactly what happened early in the 20th Century with the rise of theological liberalism. As an example, he refers to a recent sermon by Andy Stanley, the influential pastor of Atlanta’s Northpoint Community Church (and son of Charles Stanley). You can watch the sermon here (the segment in question begins around 24 minutes in). It’s a long article, but if you only read one thing today, make it this one. It’s going to make the rounds, and will probably spark a lot of good discussion. Stay tuned!

About That New Obama Slogan — I’m not a fan of our current president, but have never taken him for an idiot. But what is he thinking? If he doesn’t want to be called a Socialist, why the heck does he choose the same campaign slogan used by Germany’s Social Democratic Party since 1884? Of course, the SDP party platform — not to be confused with the National Socialist (Nazi) Party — does pretty much represent what Barack Obama has consistently promoted during his administration.

What Augustine’s Baptism Can Teach Our Churches — When a staunch Southern Baptist like Russell Moore starts talking about learning from a Roman Catholic author’s book about a paedobaptist church father, you know it’s going to be interesting! Great stuff as always from Dr. Moore.

A Theology of Reading — Here’s an 11-minute podcast with Tony Reinke, author of Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books, which is absolutely phenomenal. Hopefully the podcast will whet your appetite for the book!

Free Audiobook of the Month — Speaking of books, the ChristianAudio.com free book of the month is Resolving Everyday Conflict, by Ken Sande. I haven’t read (or listened) yet, so can’t offer a recommendation one way or another.

I enjoyed this video addressing common objections to Christianity (HT: Thabiti Anyabwile):